Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Notes from the VGXPO2008: State of the Industry panel

I left after about an hour - there were sound issues (in this case, the sound was set way too loud, as opposed to the game pitch session where there were no mics and everything was too quiet or the getting into the industry panel where there was a mic but lots of feedback - all headache inducing)

someone from Media Colition - they do legal stuff for hte game industry - 1st amendment stuff
someone from the ESA - the group that runs the E3 conference, also works against bad laws affecting videogames
Videogame Voter network - contacts members about upcoming legislation affecting the industry

some big topics - could be good for freshmen to make videos about and then to come back to in the business and law class as juniors - I put a post for later on the private blog

what's the image of the videogame industry in the wider world, mainstream media
music and movies look at videogame industry for ideas on how to survive/thrive, for stories, for places to distribute content

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Notes from the VGXPO2008: Breaking into the industry

There were 6 or so people on this panel. Here are some general notes that I"ve tried to organize by topics

  • Hard to get in, no guaranteed jobs, everyone above average, you have to stand out, you have to be the best at what you do, you have to bring a lot of knowledge about games, and you have to put in a lot of work to find a good job. Industry has a "churn and burn" attitutde towards employees because there is a never-ending stream of people who want the jobs. 30-40% of industry jobs are non-production (marketing/PR brand development, project management)
  • Think about games broadly - lots of different types of games - casual, seirous, mobile, simulations - all need people with game making skills
  • Have to show you have a passion for the industry, for making games - shows in your portfolio, in your conversations
  • College degree shows you can finish something big - Graduate degrees good for pure game design - grad school like boot camp for the industry. Full sail starting masters program
  • Make games while you're in school - all kinds of games. Mod games
  • Need experience working on teams
  • Play games, lots of games, all kinds of games - don't have to finish them - play and understand the basics. Be able to talk about them. Play the games made by the studios where you would like to work.
  • Get experience playing and making online games - everyone is looking to be online
  • Look at the studios where you want to work and see what jobs are listed on their website, then see what skills they want in those jobs, then look for a program that offers those skills. look for the job titles so you know what to search on. Look for the names of people doing interesting work in the field you want to be in - follow them in the news, read their blogs so you have something to talk about if ya get to meet them.
  • Get skills to do other stuff in addition to making games so you have stuff to fall back on when jobs are scarce.

Portfolio & Interviews
  • Portfolio should have a clean professional design. Include stuff specific to the kind of job you're applying for. Have someone in the biz review your portfolio.
  • Degree and resume not enough - you need a solid portfolio that shows how you're different from competition, there is lots of competition, you can put in games that you made in class. Be sure to say what you did on projects - don't lie but don't sell yourself short.
  • Start working now to develop and build up your portfolio - mod, mod, mod make own game with lots of tools - XNA, Torque, web tools. Have friends play your games and give you feedback.
  • Look for internships - not all companies have organized internship programs so you ahve to contact them and ask for opportunitites
  • If artist, put in things that have real world equivalents (reference pictures) and your drawings better be picture perfect. DOn't put in cars, mechs robots, spaceships imaginary sci fi landscapes
  • At interiew be very professional be sure you know about the compnay and the games that they make
  • play games from the studio(s) where you want to work - they're going to ask you about it at interviews and you need to sound/be informed
  • Network, network, network - especially when economy tough, industry very competitive so you have to know people and make good first impressions. Be sure to have business cards (that say the title you want, not student). Talk to the speakers at panels. Ask if you can contact them about portfolio reviews. They believe that most people in the biz are willing to give advice.
  • Volunteer at conferences - good for networking, good for showing your dedication to the industry, learn a lot
  • Blog, create a website - have an online presence, a professional presence
  • Join professional orgs - IGDA, ECA, Videogame Voters Network - take part in student chapters, take leadership roles, invite guests.
Here's a good blog post by an audio guy who was on one of the panels - http://www.mikeworthmusic.com/blog/?p=26

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Notes from the VGXPO2008: Pitching a Game Idea

The first session of the expo was a session where people got to pitch a game idea nad get feedback. I listened to about 5 or 6 ideas. The ideas weren't why I was there - I wanted to hear what kinds of feedback the judges gave, what kinds of questions the judges asked. Here are my notes from that expo. I think pitching will need to be a part of the sophomore class - it's a skill we all need to practice and it ties in with giving and getting feedback, another necessary skill.

General Advice
  • There are different types of pitches - to venture capitalists, to IPholders (to get permission to use their property), to other people in your company to try to get your game made
  • Different audiences want different information; some want more info, others less (the high level executive summary type presentaiton). For some people you need the "elevator pitch - 2 minutes or less - that is designed to pique the listener's interest and hopefully they will want to extend the conversation. If you're pitching an MMO to MMO developers then give lots of details about story and crafts and levels while other audience won't want that kind of detail.
  • Goal of pitch is to get people excited - you have to get them excited right from teh beginning
  • Pitch meeting is time to develop an internal champion, make connections with at least one person in the room.
  • Have to give the impression that you can get the job done - they're going to risk a large amount of money on you if they agree to do your game and they want to be sure you can deliver on your promises
  • When you first start out in the biz you'll be pitching to people who's job it is to screen out ideas. Don't ignore them tho - they're probably assistant producers and in a few years they will be in charge of something. Make a long term friend.
  • Most ideas get thrown away originally. Companies might have something like it in production already or might now have a team available. And sometimes idea is just bad.
  • Content pitches are tough to sell - no reason for audience to listen to long story
  • Remember - game is entertainment product and they're going to take liberties with your ideas and your content to make it more fun and cooler
  • Have to understand the play habits of people who play the kind of game you're pitching - if mobile game, need to understand how people play mobile (play in little bursts, can get text messages but might need them deferred since might be at work) - same iwth casual games (if you say you're going to have huge conversion rate you sound naieve), part of showing them you can get the job done successfully. You have to show you've thought about the potential problems in your kind of game - that features such as microtransactions won't mess up the balance of the game
Specific Advice - what to include in the pitch
  • Need to consider who's your main competition and what's going to make your game special, what differentiates it from other games. The differentiator might be the feature set the IP the price, how it's distributed
  • Say who's your intended audience (and it should be an audience that hte company wants to reach)
  • If you're tying in with some current trend or pop culture success, say so - they might be interested because that trend shows there's some interest in the topic
  • For the majority of games the story isn't that important, game depends on the core mechanics so don't downplay your mechanics
  • If you're pitching an MMO - you have to say how you're going to beat/compete with WOW, especially if your game doesn't have features that WOW type players like, how you're going to deal with subscriptions/make money such as by using microtransactions
  • Want people at the meeting to be able to see what the space looks like and how characters move and what characters look like
  • using industry terminology, catchy names for things in your game give the audience something to askyou about
Some topics that the judges thought were good/interesting right now - mmo's with microtransactions, free racing, games with non-stupid NPCs reputation AI for NPC, UGC, community features
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Monday, November 24, 2008

Interesting blog post

from an indie game developer on what it really means to be an indie game developer - he gets to do a little of everything (he's the only full time employee of his company) including talking to the media and promoting his games. There's a discussion of distribution channels and the current state of the casual games market.

Blog: NotesonGameDev.net, post written by Andy Schatz

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Another TED video - this one on creativity and play

Tim Brown, CEA of design firm Ideo, gave a talk on creativity and play at TED. It was part of the Serious Play conference that focused on the same topics.

The Flow Guy

Here's a video of a talk from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi at TED (tech, education, entertainment conference with lots of speakers over the years. He's talking about flow which is an idea we're going to discuss in game design class and in the fun and games senior seminar.

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

I want this

The left dance platform of a Dance Dance Revol...Image via WikipediaMass DDR at the Videogame Expo. They had 32 people all dancing at the same time on wireless metal dance pads. The screen at the front showed a bubble for each player to let them know beat by beat how they're doing. The top 10 scores (and dancer numbers) were shown oat the bottom of the screen. And people were having a great time. It wasn't just kids or girls - everybody was dancing together. The man running the show played songs at different difficulty levels so everybody could have a good time.

(ps - this was my first attempt at using the FlipVideo I borrowed from school - the quality is pretty awesom considering I was in a darkened room, on the floor, holding the camera propped on my knee)

Here's the video

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Videogame News

Some interesting news and new news sources.

A new-to-me news source called Game Business Daily has editorials and news tidbits. It is very strangely (as in, difficult to read on my Mac running Firefox) formatted but interesting stories. They don't have an RSS feed as far as I can tell as of early November 2008. For instance check out their story predicting upcoming economic woes for the game industry - might be a bad time for us to start a videogame design major. Except as it points out, there are lots of new distribution channels, new kinds of games; we have to find a niche for our students to specialize in and/or give them a variety of skills so they can adapt to changes in the market to come. http://www.gamebusinessdaily.com/articles/articles4.html

Another new-to-me news source is Daily Warcraft - I'm not a WOW player but I know some of my students are; again I didn't see an RSS feed. The thing that caught my eye on this site is the ads for learning how to be a gold farmer. Ok - that's strange. It was there yesterday, had news about the maintenance downtime in fact. Now today - the day of the Lich King expansion release, it's down. Maybe too much volume. Worth trying later - http://www.dailywarcraft.com/
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Saturday, November 08, 2008

ideas for the Fun & Games senior seminar - Spring 2009

So there was a less-relevant-to-me speaker during the conference and I used the time to make some notes about the upcoming senior seminar. This isn't the final set of ideas - nothing is set in stone yet. I haven't played with the concepts on the concept map yet. These are just a string of random ideas I had - topics, questions to answer, possible projects

The idea for the seminar came from a conversation I had with someone from Microsoft - I think it was John Nordlinger who's the program director for research and helps organize Microsoft's cruise for computer scientists interested in videogames. He mentioned that the games industry was really interested in creating fun products but didn't have the time or resources to study the concept of fun. He thought that colleges, students and professors would have the time and skills. Sounded fun to me. I want to get some professors together to talk about how fun plays out in their field, even if professors have fun. I might still try that out - but figured it was easier to get a seminar going so going to start with that. Hopefully the students will be able to deal with a really open structure class - there's no right answer, there's no one answer. We may go round and round and the picture may still be murky when we get done - gota figure out how to let them know that's normal in research and in a lot of projects they'll do in real life. We gotta be happy with baby steps.

here's some needs
  • Raph KosterImage via Wikipedianeed readings about fun, entertainment, humor, media psych, media entertainment, effects of personality/demographics, characteristics of media, context variables, player reasons for playing - right now leaning towards reading Raph Koster's A theory of fun for game design
  • need interviews with different kinds of people to see what they say about fun
  • need articles about definitions and the process of defining things, how to figure out what's important
students divided into research teams - collect some data using different methods, present that to class, write that part of the reportsome questions we could try to answer - give each group a question to answer, they have to find readings, lead discussions, each group gets a question, has to do something in class a couple of times on their topic
  • what's fun
  • how do we recognize it
  • how can we measure it
  • how can we increase the chances of people having fun?
  • how can we imporve the fun people are having
  • do different people experience fun differently
  • is fun experience differently depending on teh medium being used
  • can work be fun
  • can work be made fun
  • does fun change as we add other activities in the game, as we add multiplayer
  • what role does flow play in fun

things I want to do in class
  • list and organize words and phrases that you associate with fun - probably use the mindmeister or draw on paper - somehow we have to get the ideas together on one map
  • interview people (video, audio) - how do they define fun (in general, not with regard to videogames specifically) - they might give you examples which is ok but you have to try and bring them around to a definition
  • look at picture tagged fun in flickr/facebook - what do they have in common?
  • different teams collect different info about fun and create initial understanding of definition
  • then do a round of projects/readings/discussion looking at how we measure fun, how we know when someone is having fun
  • end of the semester is a round of how we can make games fun, what developers should do - this part of the class is explicitly about videogames, goal is to combo the general research into something useful for the industry
  • students create report at 3 time points - collect data, analyze, write - we need a report format
  • do focus group with the guys from qual about games, fun
  • for each group's time leading class (1 week per topic or multiple weeks for a bigger set of topics
  1. 1st day - tell us what we know already, present results of lit review, written review goes into the final report, in class give us the highlights
  2. 2nd day - discuss the problems, what we don't know
  3. 3rd day - get class to discuss how we find out more

can we involve other classes - get them to take our survey, participate in our wiki description; can we invite people from SL, watch people play all kinds of games - what evidence do we see of fun?

I'd like to set up a youtube channel and invite people to post their video responses/reactions - people could use VidNik - makes uploading to Youtube easy
want to create a site for ongoing conversation ouside class, maybe a wiki page or a forums page, some place to put in raw data, links to videos, transcripts, initital analysis, our sketches, our more finished reports, other people's conversatins, interim findings

Here are some readings suggested by folks from the IGDA Game Education SIG and the Women in Gaming SIG. I need to organize and put some topic labels on (probably get to that over the Thanksgiving break)

  • Pierre-Alexandre Garneau. "Fourteen Forms of Fun" - http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20011012/garneau_01.htm
  • Anders Hejdenberg. "The Psychology Behind Games" - http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20050426/hejdenberg_01.shtml
  • Jonathan Frome. "Eight Ways Videogames Generate Emotion" - http://www.digra.org/dl/db/07311.25139.pdf
  • Image of Nicole Lazzaro from TwitterImage of Nicole Lazzaro. "Why We Play Games: Four Keys to More Emotion Without Story" http://www.xeodesign.com/xeodesign_whyweplaygames.pdf
  • D. E. Berlyne. "Curiosity and Exploration" Science, July 1966
  • Rowan Hooper. "Just How Exciting Is It?" http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2005/02/66598
  • Various usability engineering presentations: http://mgsuserresearch.com/publications/ (They used to have video presentations online; I'm not seeing it today...)
  • Marc LeBlanc. "Tools for Creating Dramatic Game Dynamics" The Game Design Reader: A Rules of Play Anthology
  • Katherine Isbister. Game Usability: Advancing the Player Experience
  • Joseph W Kable & Paul W Glimcher. "The neural correlates of subjective value during intertemporal choice" Nature Neuroscience, December 2007
  • Michael C. Dorris and Paul W. Glimcher. "Activity in Posterior Parietal Cortex Is Correlated with the Relative Subjective Desirability of Action" Neuron, October 2004
  • Costikyan's "I Have No Words and I Must Design": www.costik.com/nowords.html - this is one of the first writings on what makes games fun, so it's a great place to start. It also begins the all-important process of building a critical vocabulary to talk about games, something that is sorely lacking in our field (though not for lack of trying).
  • Church's "Formal Abstract Design Tools": www.gamasutra.com/features/19990716/design_tools_01.htm - Building on Costikyan's work, Doug Church introduces the important concepts of player intention and feedback(among other things).
  • LeBlanc et al's "MDA Framework": www.cs.northwestern.edu/~hunicke/MDA.pdf - one of the most influential papers dealing with the concept of "fun" that I know of. If you read nothing else, read this. I'd even put this ahead of Koster, seriously.
  • Falstein's "Natural Funativity": www.gamasutra.com/features/20041110/falstein_01.shtml - Most writings in the field try to identify what kinds of things we find fun. This article gives a great theory for WHY we find them fun in the first place.
  • If you want to talk about Flow states (a la Koster), you could always assign some readings from Csikszentmihalyi's original work. - we have a video in the library of hte flow stuff - video 7521
  • "Design Elements in Contemporary Strategy Games" and "Contemporary Perspectives in Game Design" - game design books written by George Phillies and Tom Vassal - these are available as PDF's, ebooks, and as paperback trade books
  • The Origin of Myth by Joseph Campbell
  • Jesper Juul's "half-real"
  • Maslow's hierarchy of needs - some basic psych explanations for motivations
  • Chris Crawford's article "The Core Argument" at http://www.erasmatazz.com/library/History%20of%20Thinking/CoreArgument.html
  • Sutton-Smith trips through the topic in "The Ambiguity of Play"
  • Jesse Schell's new book "The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses" - the part about harnessing your creative subconscious has been especially recommended, along with the design lenses - this book is great overall and for my fun class. The first few lenses involve fun.
  • an out of print bookd by Elliot Avedon The Study of Games from the 1970's - here's the amazon.com link. It's an anthropology of play - and the author makes the case that games are a culture's way of making sense of the world they experience. I like that take on it. Jesse Schell uses Avedon's definition of games too.
  • I have been trying to find some older articles about games and leisure activities. Here are a few that I've found and read so far: Leisure Time Activities of Economically Privileged Children by Cramer from Sociology and Social Research journal in the 50s, Games in Culture by Roberts, Arth, and Bush from American Anthropologist from 1959, and The Social Significance of Card Playing as a Leisure Time Activity by Crespi from American Sociological Review in the 50s
I found some interesting videos on YouTube too - I put them on a play list under my account (kgregson) called fun and games. I found one on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and Flow. Notice I found a couple about architecture. Someone suggested having the students do a project where they look at lots of other fields and see how fun plays out there. The videos are a way to intro the idea of fun.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

More from FuturePlay Game Producer workshop

A vectorized image of project dimensions.Image via Wikipediaa few notes from Day 2 of the workshop - we talked about testing, project management techniques, production techniques, localization, voice over and music, and relationships with external forces like marketing

big realization - preproduction is so much more important than I ever thought. Marketing needs to be on board that early. You have to plan for how you're going to localize your game that early. You ahve to plan what voices you'll need so you can get on their schedule for voice over recording sessions.

The producer doesn't have to be a serious gamer. They need to be detailed oriented, willing and able to keep track of what everyone is doing all the time. And be able to communicate it up the food chain to management and down the foodchain to team members.

Producers can have associate producers. Publisher might assign someone from their staff to be the publisher's producer to seemingly spy on you. But also to make sure the publisher's money being spent efficiently.

Localization becoming more important because games want to do what's called simship - ship to all countries the same day. Cuts down on game pirating. I think this might be a cool project to get folks from foreign language depts involved in games - have the junior or senior game folks localize into one language.

game folks don't seem to have much respect for marketing - marketing seen as a big time waster causing the game folks to stop their work and make a demo or a trailer for markeitng to send out to magazines or conferences. This would be a good way to get IMC involved in the game major - give the game folks experience working with markeitng in a positive way before the game folks go out to the real world

themes that keep coming up
  • test test test
  • communicate communicate communicate
  • get buy in from the team
  • need processes to track change requests, bugs, need for new resources
  • have to educate team sometimes on importance/necessity of project management techniques
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Tuesday Morning Keynote from FuturePlay2008

Katie Salen from Parsons School and the Institute of Play gave the morning keynote. 8am is very early and the room was a little empty. No reflection on the speaker, some folks just slept in I think. The crowd picked up before the talk was over.

Big news - they're starting their own (public?) school based on game design. Teachers and game designers working together to develop curriculum. I am so jealous. And I feel very jealous. Such exciting projects with all kinds of people working together.

other points - that I can work with) - interaction = participation. Even MMO's and multiplayer games come down to interaction between 2 people so everyone feels they're participating. Games bring goals to that participation. Performance towards the goals of hte game is assessed throughout the game. You gan skills to do better as you play and you learn other more general skills.

people (kids especially) learn collaboratively how to play games. they watch each other, they try stuff out and ask other players what to do differently, to improve

when kids make games they learn content - makes sense. And they want people to play their games so they take extra trouble to make sure it's a good game and accurate info.

sites to check out
  • institute of play
  • galaxyzoo - a crowdsourcing game to locate galaxies in a mass of astronomical data
  • once upon a story card game (I think I had this in my amazon cart and didn't know why till today)
  • game bucket - a table that cross references board/card/video games with NYS learning objectives
  • GameStar Mechanic - a game that eaches game design
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Monday, November 03, 2008

FuturePlay 2008

What I'm mostly doing at the Future Play confernce is going thru the 3 day game producer's workshop. Today we covered preproduction and got an intro to production. Lots of notes, we did a couple of group exercises. I got lots of ideas for things we need to do in the 4 year curriculum to give everyone exposure at different levels to these preproduction ideas. The game producer's workshop is led by Heather Chandler who was the producer for the Ghost Recon franchise at Ubisoft up to 2005 when she started her own company Media Sunshine, inc. to provide producer and creative services as a contractor. Here are a couple of ideas from today's class.

  • I think i would like to be a game producer - they do the budgeting, the scheduling, the relations with the team and with the "suits". They have the big picture in mind at all times.
  • independent stuios/developers have to prove that they can deliver on time and on budget and they can quickly get a bad reputation if they mess up a project
  • preproduction should take up from 10 to 25% of time alloted to the game development - more ya do up front, the smoother hte production will go
  • brainstorm often with people from the team - game concept, character names, character appearance, gameplay, look and feel - - get lots of ideas and you get buy in from the people on the team good for morale and good for game quality
  • SWOT analysis diagram in English language.Image via Wikipediaproducer has to do competitive, SWOT, and risk analyses - for competitive analysis look at past games that set the standard for the genre, present games that are selling well, announced but not yet released games to see key features, how you can position your game against hte competition - she says to write down for each competing game - title developer, publisher, platform, release date, game summary, key features, sales estimates, game reviews on things like metacritic, - can do in a spreadsheet
  • prototypes are good - show people your idea, play test early on, can be paper or digital, good for iterative design, can prototype parts of the game like new game play mechanisms - - gets people from all parts of the team talking about the game since they will all be able to see how it looks and plays
  • milestones - deliverables on key dates key events to track game progress, goals for designers & programmers - have to make sure everyone agrees wiht the definitions of hte milestone deliverables, break down what each part of hte team should have ready for each milestone so each part of the team knows what to expect to be getting from other parts of the team
  • she talked about very detailed schedules i project management software that has dependencies and resources assigned, break down tasks to that subtasks might take just a day or two, get a list from everyone of al the tasks that they think they need to do, organize and prioritize it
  • hard to plan 2 years in advance so producer has to be flexible and be willing to update schedule as you move thru development phases
  • as ya get people to play the prototype - need them to say what htey like/dislike about the game and why - why is the most important and the toughest to actually get, have to tease out what they don't like specifically and what they'd like to see instead

during production - focus on finishing the game - no new features without compelling reasons, stick to the plan, easier to do if there's buy in earlier from the preproduction phase

gamasutra has salary reviews that you could use for initial budgeting
share schedule with the team - again gets buy in, lets them see what happens if they fall behind on their tasks - they can see all the other tasks that will be put off schedule

I ahve a copy of the slides and we're getting a copy of her book with a lot more detail.

I think we have to give students a chance to practice these preproductin skills - developing budgets and schedules, doing QA being the producer, being lead designer/artist/programmer
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Notes from FuturePlay conference in Toronto 2008 pt1

View of skyscrapers in the financial district ...Image via WikipediaThis is the first of a couple of posts about the FuturePlay conference in Toronto in November 2008. It started on a good note - lots of tasty fresh fruit and yummy soup for lunch. The picture is the Toronto skyline from the CN tower (which I went up in. I have some of my own pics from the tower that I"ll post later. Now for the relevant stuff.....

The morning keynote was Ben Sawyer talking about serious games. He started Digital Mill. He started games for health and the serious games initiative. He has the experience to back up his thoughts, predictions, and suggestions for future work. I have a lot of notes but here are a few cool things.

  • they have a serious games taxonomy with definitions and examples - handy reference
  • most people are working with uninformed opinions about serous games - it's not just games for education
  • most people talking about serous games have a poor sense of what's a game and have little experience with modern games or what people expect when you say something is a game now a days
  • serious educational games shouldn't think that one measure of success for htem is that people will just pick them up and play (like they do halo or gears of war) - as long as the games are a little more interesting/motivating than the alternative that's a success - because content matters and fisheries management is just not as inherently interesting as is blowing up space aliens - i hadn't thought about this before - you can't just say oh it's a game kids will want to play it without it being assigned as homework --- that's just not true for most games for education and that's ok since they will play them a little more frequently, will actually do their homework, will get a little more practice with a game than a regular workbook for instance
  • people shouldn't assume that serious games = boring games; bad games regardless of whether they're serous or not are just boring, don't make bad games
  • games play into the idea of learning as behavior change
  • we need more research - especially design research relaqted to games - about serious games, need to organize a foundation of research literature, need more theories than just hwat James Gee has proposed
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